Israel – The Jewish Population

The term “Jew” originates from the biblical Israelite tribe of Judah, whose direct descendants are today’s Jews The ancient Judean kingdom and its capital Jerusalem were destroyed by the Roman Empire in 70 CE and most of the Jews were expelled. The remaining population consolidated around several cities, which remained centers of Jewish culture throughout history. The Jews dispersed all over the world, adapting themselves to local cultures while preserving their distinctive identity. Throughout the ages, faith in “the in gathering of the exiles” inspired Jews to return to their ancestral homeland, a trend which increased from the 19th century. Each community returned with its special customs – the Sephardi Jews expelled from Iberia at the end of the 15th century, the Ashkenazi Jews of Central and Eastern Europe, the Mizrahi Jews of the Middle East and North Africa, and smaller groups, such as the Ethiopian Jews and the Cochini Jews of southern India. All integrated into modern Israel’s melting-pot society, contributing to its vibrant, inclusive culture. A majority of Israel’s 6.25 million Jews (75% of the total population) adopt a secular lifestyle. Those who choose religious observance, range from Orthodox, through traditional, to Conservative, Reform and Progressive Judaism.

Jewish values and culture are common denominators that feature in the lives of most Jews, secular and religious alike. Cultural aspects comprise festivals, traditions, quintessential cuisine and a strong emphasis on family and community life. Jewish values include a passion for learning and intellectual debate, care for one’s fellow man and an aspiration to contribute to humankind. Many see faith in God as an integral part of their Jewish character, while others do not.

The Jews became known as the ‘People of the Book’ for two reasons: they gave the Bible to the world, and they have always been literate, due to the centrality of education and Bible study in Jewish culture.

The Jews of Ethiopia – According to most experts, Israelites settled in Ethiopia in biblical times (10th century BCE). The community gradually lost contact with the Jewish world, until it was ‘rediscovered’ in 1867. Despite periods of persecution, Ethiopia’s Jews maintained their traditions, and were eventually allowed to leave. Many were air-lifted to Israel in special operations, becoming an integral part of Israeli society. Today there are about 135,000 Israelis of Ethiopian descent.

Hebrew, the language of the Jewish People is a Northwest Semitic language; Historically, it is regarded as the language of the Israelites and their ancestors, although the language was not referred to by the name Hebrew in the Tanakh. The earliest examples of written Paleo-Hebrew date from the 10th century BCE. Hebrew belongs to the West Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic language family. Hebrew is the only living Canaanite language left, and the only truly successful example of a revived dead language.

Via Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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